previous chapter
Chapter 4 After We Have Captured Their Bodies
next chapter

Chapter 4
After We Have Captured Their Bodies

In his book Recognizing Islam , Michael Gilsenan cites from the report of a French military officer in Algeria, on an insurrection put down by his troops in 1845–46. To establish political authority over a population, wrote the officer, there are two modes, one of suppression and one of tutoring. The latter is long-term and works upon the mind, the former works upon the body and must come first.

In effect the essential thing is to gather into groups this people which is everywhere and nowhere; the essential thing is to make them something we can seize hold of a When we have them in our hands, we will then be able to do many things which are quite impossible for us today and which will perhaps allow us to capture their minds after we have captured their bodies.[1]

In the previous two chapters I have been examining new methods of military control, architectural order and schooling, which made it possible for the first time to speak of 'capturing the bodies' of a population. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, I have tried to show the emergence in Egypt of a political power that sought not only to capture the individual body but to colonise it and maintain a continuous presence. The words of the French officer indicate something further about this colonising power. As I suggested at the end of the previous chapter, it was a power that seemed to construct its object as something divided into two separate concerns, body and mind. In the following pages I am going to argue that this very division was something new, that it was produced by the new methods of power, and that the essence of these methods was in fact to effect such a separation. Analysing the duality of mind and body will connect the study of disciplinary power to the larger theme of the world-as-exhibition.

I will begin, like the French officer, with the control of the body. The system of surveillance was to start not in the school or the army, but from birth. Following the British military occupation of Egypt in 1882, a central office was set up to organise the official registration of births in every Egyptian village. This required what Lord Cromer, the local agent of the British government, liked to call 'systematic English inspection', the everyday method of power that colonialism sought to consolidate. 'In connection with


registration and the value of systematic English inspection', he reported to the Foreign Office in London, 'there cannot be a better example than a recent case in the Province of Benisouef. The English Inspecting Officer had reason to believe that there must be a large number of adults and children who had not been registered on a certain "esbeh" [estate] belonging to a wealthy Egyptian. The Sheikh who was responsible had certified that there was no one in the village on the [estate] liable to conscription or nonregistered ... The Inspecting Officer, with a force of police and watchmen, surrounded the village at night; in the morning over 400 were found unregistered, and the Sheikh will be tried by court-martial.' The immediate purpose of registering the country's births was to organise recruitment into the army, whose own methods of surveillance and control I have discussed earlier. But such 'English inspection' had a wider value, as Cromer himself explained in the report to the Foreign Office. Inspection 'enabled a systematic supervision to be exercised over the military and medical work of Recruiting Commissions, and, indirectly, over much of the civil work of the Mudirieh [provincial government] authorities'.[2]

Similar methods of supervision and control were required at a local level for the new methods of capitalist production, in particular the cultivation and processing of cotton. Private ownership of large estates and the investment of European capital were creating a class of landless workers, whose bodies needed to be taught the disciplined habits of wage-labour. Two Englishmen who owned a cotton-ginning factory in the new town of Zagazig employed an English youth to oversee 'Mansoor', their Egyptian overseer. Mansoor's job, in turn, according to the English youth, was 'watching the natives whilst at work and keeping them in order, for most of them were naturally of indolent disposition ... As moral persuasion was of very little use, he carried with him a sort of kourbash or long whip, with which he encouraged industry among the men and boys; when, however, any man had been found stealing or committing a more serious crime, he was sent round to the police headquarters for punishment, and it fell to me to accompany him, explain the crime to the chief officer, and see that he was properly flogged.'[3]

Capitalist production also required the creation and management of large bodies of migrant workers, to build and maintain the new structures being laid in place across the Egyptian countryside - roads, railways, canals, dams, bridges, telegraphs and ports. Larger projects such as the digging of the Suez Canal required the movement and supervision of tens of thousands of men. Smaller gangs of labourers were brought from southern Egypt for seasonal employment in constructing and maintaining the new network of perennial irrigation canals in the north, on which the cultivation of cotton depended. The British placed such gangs under continuous police control.


They also introduced a system of 'tickets', which were handed out to the workers in their villages before they travelled north, but only to those men whom the local police deemed not to be troublemakers.[4]

Perhaps the practice of issuing 'tickets' was borrowed from the country's rapidly expanding system of railways, another locus of unprecedented mechanisms of discipline. By the end of the century the number of miles of railway in Egypt, per capita and per inhabited area, was among the highest in the world. The railways carried 4.7 million passengers in 1890 and almost 30 million in 1906, and they employed the largest permanent workforce in the country. Besides supervising and controlling this workforce, the railway authorities had to organise the issuing and collecting of tickets for every one of the millions of passengers, and run their own army of guards, policemen and inspectors 'for the maintenance of discipline upon them'.[5]

Rural Egypt was to become, like the classroom and the city, a place wherever possible of continuous supervision and control, of tickets and registration papers, of policing and inspection. Besides the particular supervision of fields, factories, railways and work gangs, the government wished to establish a general system of policing that would be 'intelligent, active, and ubiquitous'.[6] At first, following the breakdown of government authority in 1882, this required a system that was, as Cromer admitted, 'tantamount to the introduction of martial law'. The so-called 'Brigandage Commissions' with which the government attempted to crush local armed groups in the countryside employed all the now-familiar techniques for overcoming peasant resistance to the new power of a modern state: military raids, secret police, informants, massive imprisonment (the country's jails were filled to four times their capacity), and the systematic use of torture. Examples of torture used to extract confessions from suspects included hanging people from iron collars, and, in the case for instance of Mahmud Ali Sa'idi, arrested at a café in Tanta by two secret policemen in April 1887, burning the body with red-hot iron nails.[7]

A decade after they were introduced, the Brigandage Commissions were replaced with a more disciplined, widespread and continuous system of policing. Colonel Herbert Kitchener, one of the British officers of the Egyptian army, was appointed Inspector-General of the Egyptian police. Kitchener exemplified the new style of late nineteenth-century soldier-administrator, like Lyautey in Morocco, who transformed modern military methods of inspection, communication and discipline into an uninterrupted process of political power, succeeding where the earlier attempts I have discussed had failed. 'A first-rate military administrator, every detail of the machine with which he had to work received adequate attention', wrote Lord Cromer of him. 'Each portion of the machine was adapted, so far as human foresight could provide, to perform its allotted task.'[8] Besides the


organisation of a police force, a comprehensive system of English inspection was established, set up within the Ministry of the Interior (as this new bureaucracy was called); the 'interior' of Egyptian village life was thus to be brought under continuous supervision. To assist in this the local village watchmen, 50,000 in number, were placed on government salaries, and later brought to provincial centres for military training and provided with arms. The watchmen were to collaborate in 'the surveillance by the police of criminals and suspected persons' and indeed of all 'noted bad characters'. Finally, a series of government regulations were introduced aimed at the repression of further rural 'disorder', including a prohibition on the carrying of guns by all except 'government or local officials, or substantial landowners and traders'. The new methods of control were enormously successful. The groups of rural resistance were broken up, their leaders were shot or captured, the attacks on the new private property were brought to an end, and the power of 'substantial landowners and traders' made secure.[9]

Sanitary and Other Reasons

The new methods of power sought to police, supervise and instruct the population individually. It was a power that wanted to work with 'known individuals' and 'noted characters', who were to be registered, counted, inspected and reported upon. The first census of the population was carried out in 1882. As with the registration of births and the procedures for medical inspection, the concern with the individual body of the political subject was both military and economic. The new medico-statistical practices, moreover, adopted from the armed forces, provided a language of the body - its number, its condition, its improvement, its protection - in terms of which political power might operate.[10] Such language could be used to control and restrict any large movements or gatherings that might be difficult to penetrate and police. It was used in this way, for example, to suppress the popular fairs that marked out the calendar of social and economic life all over Egypt.

The biggest of the country's annual fairs - indeed one of the great popular gatherings of the whole Mediterranean world - was the feast of al-Sayyid Badawi, which took place in the Delta town of Tanta. The feast was an enormous occasion, and had grown particularly following Tanta's connection to the railway system in 1856. Its visitors in the 1860s and 1870s were said to number more than half a million every year.[11] Already in this period the festival began to receive criticism: that religious practices which occurred there contravened the law, and that it was harmful to the country because it kept people from their work. Such criticisms were answered at the time by pointing out that the festival was an enormous annual market, like


the great markets found in every part of the world, at which business and commerce thrived.[12] These views, however, did not prevail, and in the last three decades of the century the entire festival was suppressed, an act carried out in the name of hygiene. There was concern in the 1870s about 'the profusion of diseases and bad air' each year following the event. The problem was blamed at the time on the town's physical structure and resulted in the destruction of buildings to create open streets, discussed at the beginning of the last chapter. These measures were evidently insufficient for the purpose however, because by the turn of the century the government had suppressed the festival more or less completely, 'for sanitary and other reasons'.[13]

The language of health and physical hygiene was also used in the government schools, as part of the new discipline of the body. The teaching of personal hygiene, and the accompanying school books, were intended of course to promote individual cleanliness and tidiness. But their language and method aimed to eliminate an entire way of understanding personal vulnerability among ordinary Egyptians, particularly in the village, and to replace it with a nineteenth-century notion of the body. The body was to be treated as a physical machine, and disease as a mechanical process of cause and effect.[14] The customs of the village were persisting in Egypt 'because they have not been sufficiently combatted' argued one of the authors of these school textbooks, and the hope was to see them, in the phrase of the Orientalist who translated part of his work into English, 'relegated to the archives of human error'.[15] The author was a man in his mid-twenties from a village in the Delta, who had trained as a doctor at the government medical school in Cairo, and was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to write two textbooks for the government schools, the first on hygiene, which appeared under the title Health Measures Against the Habits of Egyptians and the second, published in 1896, on manners and morals more generally.[16]

The method of these books was not simply to discredit the local practitioners of healing among the poor - though all of them were roundly condemned as 'impostors', 'charlatans', and 'public robbers' - but to impose an alternative idiom of explanation and an alternative medical practice. The author admitted, in fact, that many of the remedies of folk medicine were successful, but explained that they succeeded 'not from any therapeutic peculiarities in them, but from the play of the imagination and nervous volitional influence, which according to biologists in most recent times, has a very dangerous action upon the constitution'.[17] In other cases he admitted that the local remedy was scientifically correct, but attacked the local understanding of how it worked upon the body, replacing this with 'the true explanation' which accounted for its working in an alternative idiom drawn from late nineteenth-century medical science. The power of the evil eye, for example, he explained in terms of 'electric magnetism'. 'The evil magnetic


electricity, which we name envy , directs itself by way of man's senses.' He cited as an illustration the case of a healer in a certain village who was 'envying' children and other objects by staring at them. 'Whenever the envier directed his gaze upon the envied one, in the moment of excitement his poison affected that current and weakened the life movement in animals and plants, and they were wasted and lost. And in proportion to the power of the envier in overcoming the power of the envied, so is the strength or weakness of the danger, and there results a slight or severe illness, or death, or the snapping of trees, or the destruction of lofty palaces.' He even admitted, finally, that some of the imported European pills and elixirs were chemically identical to the folk medicines they were displacing, although this did not prevent him from condemning the use of such local medication. He simply added: 'How marvellous it is of Science to abolish it at first in its capacity as a natural product, and then find it (or something counterfeiting it) by way of industry!'[18]

Curative practices were continually isolated as harmful, mistaken, and mischievous in the literature of the period. A well-known work in Arabic on The Present State of the Egyptians and the Causes of their Retrogression , by Muhammad Umar, attributed much of the cause of the country's backwardness to the ignorant practices of the poor, including such manifestations of 'ignorance' as the popular trance-inducing practices of the dhikr and the zar . There were also several critical and more extensive diagnoses put into print, such as Muhammad Hilmi Zayn al-Din's Madar al-zar (The harmfulness of the zar), published in 1903, which criticised such practices in particular for the dangerous power they enabled women to acquire over their husbands.

Political Science

The attempt to introduce new methods of working upon the body was only one aspect of the changes that were taking place. In treating the body as a machine, requiring continuous supervision and control, politics constituted the person as a thing of two parts, just as it constituted the world as something twofold. The mechanical body was to be distinguished in political practice from the individual's mind or mentality, just as the material world was to be made something distinct from the conceptual order - or what in nineteenth-century France was often called 'the moral order'. Nubar Pasha, a member of the new landowning elite who served as Prime Minister of Egypt three times after the British occupation, understood the political process in terms of this distinction. Referring in a memorandum to what had been achieved 'in the army, the railways, ... bridges and roads, the health and sanitation services', he argued that 'what has been done in l'ordre matériel must be done in l'ordre moral '.[19] Nubar's memo was concerned with


the introduction of a European legal system, which would consolidate the power of private property. Thus the phrase 'the moral order' referred to law in the modern sense, meaning a community's code of rules (a sense very different from existing Islamic law, which was never understood as an abstract code setting limits within which 'behaviour' was to be confined, but rather as a series of commentaries on particular practices, and of commentaries upon those commentaries). The phrase referred more broadly, however, to a community's general moral code. In this broader sense, the moral order was a nineteenth-century term for speaking of the realm of 'meaning', as we might say today. It was a name for the abstract code or structure which is thought to exist, in the world-as-exhibition, as something separate from the world's materiality. By the end of the nineteenth century the moral order had given way to new names for this abstraction, such as 'society' or 'culture'.

To consider the political nature of these abstractions, I want to reach them via a further discussion of the person; for the new notion of the person, as composed of two separate entities, body and mind, can be connected to such abstractions as 'the moral order'. At the same time as it denoted the social realm, morality was something to be possessed by individuals. Upbringing and schooling were intended not only to discipline the body, but to form the morals - the mind - of the child. The new notion of culture had the same double sense. It referred both to the moral order of the community and to the set of rules or values to be acquired by the individual. Thus the moral or cultural dimension was both a dimension of the world (its conceptual order, as distinct from its materiality) and a space or process within the person (the individual's mind or mentality, as distinct from his or her body). The political methods of the world-as-exhibition lay in producing this coincidence between an apparent duality of the person and an apparent duality of the world.

Schooling was a process that treated the person in this dual manner. Its powers of monitoring and instructing were designed to keep the mental as well as the material under observation. The paragraph of a government report of 1880 discussing 'the nature of inspection' explained that the task of school inspectors, as 'the eyes of the Minister of Education', was to examine the condition of each school 'both materially and morally'.[20] Correspondingly, the purpose of schooling was to form both the body and the mind of the child. The two objects were clearly distinguished in the standard work on Egyptian educational practice, written for the Schools Administration in 1902 by Abd al-Aziz Jawish, the future nationalist leader who had been trained in the Lancaster method. Education, Jawish wrote, was intended both to train the physical body of the child, and to form the mind and character. The latter process was the more vital, because character alone guaran-


teed the existence of society (mujtama ') and secured the order of its affairs. The formation of the person's mind or character in school was the means to social order, Jawish explained, because the students 'are taught obedience and submission to the school's discipline and regulations, thereby becoming accustomed to respecting the regulation, discipline, and laws of the state'. The school, he concluded, renders in this respect an enormous assistance to the government. Unlike the home, moreover, the school 'is a place of competitive activity; this instils in the student's spirit a liking for diligence and industry in his work'.[21]

The power of working upon the individual offered by modern schooling, as I suggested in the previous chapter, was to be the hallmark and the method of politics itself. Politics was a process to be conceived according to the same processes as schooling, and was to work in the same way upon both body and mind. This new notion of 'politics' appears in Egyptian writings from the 1860s, first of all as something to be taught and practised in the new schools, where it would provide what Rifa'a al-Tahtawi called 'a general governing power'.

The custom of the civilised world has been to teach children the Holy Quran, in the case of the countries of Islam, and in other countries their own books of religion, and then to teach them an occupation. This in itself is unobjectionable. The Islamic countries, however, have neglected to teach the rudiments of the science of sovereign government and its applications, which are a general governing power, particularly as regards the inhabitants of the villages.[22]

Politics in this sense was not, of course, a field of study previously neglected or overlooked. It was a new notion, brought into being by the introduction of schooling and other practices, including the writing of those who organised and directed the new schools. 'The principles and precepts by which the country is governed', Tahtawi explained,

are known as the Art of Sovereign Government (fann al-siyasa al-malakiyya ), and as the Art of Administration (fann al-idara ), and also as the Science of Statecraft (ilm tadbir al-mamlaka ), and the like. The study of this science, the general discussion of it, debate and discourse upon it in councils and assemblies, and its examination in the newspapers, all this is known as 'Politics' (bulitiqiyya ), that is, government (siyasa ), from which is derived the adjective 'political', meaning pertaining to government. Politics is everything connected with the state (dawla ) and its laws, treaties and alliances.[23]

The modern notion of politics was to be defined by taking an Arabic term, siyasa , and associating it with the European word 'politics'. Siyasa before now meant, among other things, the exercise of authority or power, 'government' in the sense of the activity of governing rather than of the body that governs. Lending the word an association with the European term 'politics',


its meaning is altered from being one of several words for governing, to stand for a definite field of knowledge, debate, and practice. It was by no means the influence of a European word alone, however, that accomplished this change. Particular practices had developed for which siyasa was already an expression. The term had been used in such nineteenth-century phrases as 'siyasat sihhat al-abdan', a phrase translated into French at the time with the single word hygiène , and 'arif bi-umur al-siyasa' (literally 'one learned in matters of siyasa '), which in 1864 an Arab scholar rendered into French as criminaliste ; siyasa could also mean simply 'to police'.[24] Similarly the word tadbir , meaning arrangement, administration, or management, which occurred twice in the passage above defining the meaning of politics, was used to mean 'treatment (of an illness)'.[25] In other words, the appearance of the notion of 'politics', siyasa , was neither simply the adoption of a word from Europe nor a concept creating its own space out of nothing. Politics was a field of practice, formed out of the supervision of people's health, the policing of urban neighbourhoods, the reorganisation of streets, and, above all, the schooling of the people, all of which was taken up - on the whole from the 1860s onward - as the responsibility and nature of government.

These activities required the elaboration of a new concept denoting an entire field of practice, of thought. Using the long-established word siyasa , however, caused an apparent continuity with the past, so that the knowledge and practices it referred to appeared not as the introduction of something previously unthought, but simply the reintroduction of something 'neglected'. In earlier periods, as I suggested in chapter 2, the government of the country had been practised as the aggregating of certain goods - bodies, crops, monies - required by ruling households for their treasury and their armed forces. The political process was intermittent, irregular, obliged generally to expand as the only means of increasing its revenues, and concerned always with aggregates. As Foucault argues, modern politics was born with the concern not for aggregates but individuals - individuals who could be separately cared for, schooled, disciplined, and kept clean in an economy of individual order and well-being.

Politics, wrote Tahtawi as he introduced the concept, 'is the pivot on which the organisation of the world turns' (fa-madar intizam al-alam ala al-siyasa ).[26] The organisation of the world, its order and well-being, was now to be taken up as the political programme. Politics, according to Tahtawi, was divided into five parts. The first two, al-siyasa al-nabawiyya (prophetic) and al-siyasa al-mulukiyya (monarchic), conveyed the common and older sense of siyasa as leadership or rule. In the third and fourth categories, al-siyasa al-amma (public) and al-siyasa al-khassa (private), the new meaning of political practice appears. 'Public siyasa ' is defined as 'the leading of groups (such as the leadership of princes over countries or


armies), the organisation of matters as necessary for the improvement of people's condition, proper administration (tadbir ), and the supervision of law and order and finances.'[27] The narrower concept of leadership is broadened to include the regulation, management, and supervision of a nation's affairs.

The definition was extended further in 'Private siyasa ', also known as the siyasa of the house, and the fifth kind, al-siyasa al-dhatiyya , the siyasa of the self, in which politics was expressed in terms of hygiene, education, and discipline. The 'siyasa of the self' is 'an individual's inspection of his actions, circumstances, words, character, and desires, and his control of them with the reins of his reason'. 'Man', Tahtawi added, 'is in fact his own doctor - some refer to this as al-siyasa al-badaniyya (the siyasa of the body).'[28] These statements extend the meaning of siyasa from leadership or government to embrace the practices of 'political policy' - the policing and inspection (the word used has a military connotation, tafaqqud ) of the body, mind, and character of the individual subject.

Ethnography and Indolence

Modelled on the processes of schooling, the new politics was to acquire an individual hold upon both the body and the mind. The need for a hold upon the mind was explained by Lord Cromer in terms of the very process of constructing a colonial authority. The problem for the British colonial regime in Egypt, he explained, was that the traditional communal bonds between a ruler and those who were ruled - the 'community of race, religion, language and habits of thought' - did not exist. It was therefore necessary for the government to forge what he called 'artificial bonds' in their place. These artificial bonds were to consist above all in the government's information about and understanding of those whom they ruled, a kind of understanding that Cromer called 'reasonable and disciplined sympathy'. He insisted on 'the exhibition of reasonable and disciplined sympathy for the Egyptians, not merely by the British Government, but by every individual Englishman engaged in Egyptian administration'. How was this artificial bond of understanding to be forged, in a manner that would keep it something 'reasonable and disciplined'? It was to be 'based on accurate information and on a careful study of Egyptian facts and the Egyptian character'.[29] The Egyptian character - a notion later to be replaced with terms such as culture - was to be carefully examined, for a disciplinary politics was predicated upon this object. Such examination was itself part of the disciplinary mechanism of power - the mechanism that places under surveillance and continuously watches.

As with the registration, counting and inspection of bodies, the politics of the mind would have to begin with the process of description, in order to


constitute its object as something separate. The first task of government was 'to make an account of all the defects of the popular character', wrote one of the inspector-generals of Egyptian schools, 'to look for their origin, and to bring about their cure by means contrary to those which have caused them'.[30] In 1872, therefore, he produced a book on schooling in Egypt whose first fifty pages were devoted to 'the Egyptian character'. 'To describe public instruction', he explained on page one, 'is to paint at the same moment a picture of the manners and the character of a people.' This he did, in clear, political terms: the Egyptian is timid and yet defiant; he is susceptible to enthusiasm yet lacking in all initiative; his character is one of indifference and immobility, engendered by a lack of security about the future and an instability of property, which has killed the spirit of industry and the need to acquire.[31]

The Egyptian 'mind' or 'character' is formed in such ethnographic decription as a solid object, the object upon which the educational practices in which the writer was engaged could work. 'Ethnology shows us the effect, history gives us the cause. But it also indicates to those who would profit from its lessons, the remedies to those ills that the neglect or the harmful influences of preceding ages have created.' The descriptive process of 'ethnology' and the disciplinary practice of the school worked together in this way to create the new subject of colonial politics, the individual character or mentality. Like the more sophisticated ethnographic concepts that would replace it - first 'race' and later 'culture' - the concept of character was to acquire explanatory force by representing the historically moulded 'nature' of both the individuals and the society studied. 'The national character', wrote the Inspector-General, drawing analogies from biology and geology, the major sciences of the day, 'is the slow but constant product of the historical events that the nation has had to traverse. Resembling those alluvial plains to which each passing flood has added another layer, this character forms, condenses little by little, and, just as each different geological layer indicates to us a new natural phenomenon, so each physiological peculiarity leads us to a new phase of formation.'[32] Modern, educative politics is an ethnological process, predicated upon the formation and maintenance of this mind or character.

Politics was to produce and to remedy the individual character. The true nature of this character, moreover, was to be a producer. Ethnography emerged in the early nineteenth century, not just to describe the nature of man, but as part of a larger process of describing man as, by nature, productive. The first serious ethnography of the Middle East, Edward Lane's Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians , was subsidised and published in England by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, the organisation set up by Lord Brougham, as I mentioned earlier, to introduce


books and schooling to the new industrial working class in order to teach them the virtues of industriousness and self-discipline. Lane's book included successive chapters on 'Character', 'Industry' and 'Use of tobacco, coffee, hemp, opium, etc.'. These pages described how 'indolence pervades all classes of the Egyptians, except those who are obliged to earn their livelihood by severe manual labour' and how 'even the mechanics [manual labourers], who are extremely greedy of gain, will generally spend two days in a work which they might easily accomplish in one'; how Egyptians 'are extremely obstinate and difficult to govern' and 'have been notorious from ancient times ... for refusing to pay their taxes until they have been severely beaten'; how 'it is seldom that an Egyptian worker can be induced to make a thing exactly to order: he will generally follow his own opinion in preference to that of his employer; and will scarcely ever finish his work by the time he has promised'; how 'in sensuality, as far as it relates to the indulgence of libidinous passions, the Egyptians, as well as other natives of hot climates, certainly exceed more northern nations'; and finally, how the immoderate addiction of Egyptians to tobacco, coffee, hashish and opium had made them still 'more inactive than they were in earlier times, leading them to waste ... many hours which might be profitably employed'.[33]

There was nothing unusual about the theme of indolence as the essential characteristic of the non-European mentality. Earlier in the nineteenth century Georg Bernhard Depping, a French scholar, argued for the seriousness of studying empirically the manners and customs of other peoples - referring to it as the 'moral part' of geography and history, for which he proposed a new name 'ethnography' - by stressing what it could reveal about the effects of indolence versus industry. 'When you compare the nations of Asia and Africa with those of Europe,' he wrote, 'you cannot fail to discover a striking difference between them. The former seem to be almost plunged into such a state of indolence as prevents them performing any thing great.' Indolence, in fact, was the major theme of Depping's work. It was the character of less civilised peoples and the cause of their condition. Such arguments were uncompromisingly empirical. 'The savages of America are so indolent that they choose rather to endure hunger than to cultivate the earth', he noted, while others were reduced by laziness to eating the broiled flesh of their own kind or even, in the case of one South American tribe, to a diet of mud and clay (kneaded, baked before a slow fire, and sometimes seasoned with a small fish or lizard). Depping drew a clear lesson from studying the manners and morals of the less civilised. 'Shun idleness ... You must not imagine that in countries where idleness and thoughtlessness become habitual, men can be as happy as in others.' The decline of a people was due to the indolence of those who work in the fields, 'to produce what is necessary for the subsistence of the inhabitants'. They were to be taught


from their youth 'not to waste in doing nothing a single moment that can be usefully employed'.[34]

The Egyptian students who were brought by the French to study in Paris in the 1820s were given Depping's work to read. Its theme that productive labour formed the true nature of man was at the heart of French plans for the political and economic transformation of Egypt. Rifa` al-Tahtawi, the most outstanding of the Egyptian scholars, was asked by the French director of the mission to produce an Arabic translation of Depping's most recent book, Aperçu historique sur les moeurs et coutumes des nations .[35] When Tahtawi returned to Egypt in 1831 carrying in manuscript the numerous translations he had made of French works, the book by Depping was the first that he revised and had printed.[36] At the same time he tried to obtain permission to establish a school in Cairo to teach the 'moral part' of geography and history. Although the attempt failed, Tahtawi was later allowed to set up a School of Translation, where amid the demands for translating works of military instruction he was able to teach these subjects.[37]

Tahtawi wrote that he wished to spend the rest of his life translating into Arabic the entire corpus of French writing on geography and history. Government duties prevented this, however, until after a change of regime in 1850 when he was sent to open a school in Sudan, which he considered a form of exile. In Khartoum he produced his translation of Fénelon's Aventures de Télémaque , which expressed the same themes of the need for diligence and industry among the population, in the earlier form of a moral tale. Wherever Télémaque went in his travels outside Greece, to Thebes, Tyre, and Crete, he found people 'industrious, patient, hard-working, neat, sober and thrifty', and enjoying 'une exacte police '. He found 'not a single field where the hand of the diligent labourer had not made its mark; everywhere the plough had left its deep furrows: brambles, thorns and all the plants that occupy the earth without profit were unknown'.[38]

It is in terms of the problem of 'industriousness' that one can interpret Tahtawi's book Manahij al-albab al-misriya , one of the first major works in modern Arab political writing. The book's importance is in introducing the concept of production, in the form of an extended interpretation of the phrase 'the general good' (al-manafi` al-umumiyya ). After elucidating the meaning of the phrase, the work considers its three parts, agriculture, manufacture, and commerce, and then examines their development in Egypt from the earliest times to the present. The 'general good' refers to the common wealth that is produced in the material production of agriculture, manufacture and commerce, but it also refers to production as the habitual process that creates society. At one point in the work, Tahtawi states that the phrase 'general good' corresponds to the French term 'industrie '. The cause of Egypt's condition is diagnosed as the absence of this habit of industry, the


characteristic of the productive individual and the civilised society. Its absence makes Egyptians indolent, and indolence is fundamental to their 'character'. Using European sources, Tahtawi traces the trait of indolence all the way back to the ancient Egyptians.[39] The theme of industry reappears at the end of the work, where Tahtawi argues that there should be a government teacher in every village, 'to teach the principles of government and the general good'.[40] The new government schools were needed to form the proper mentality in the individual, to make every citizen industrious.


All those writers involved in the organisation of schooling developed the theme of indolence and industry in discussing the mentality of the Egyptian - including the Inspector-General quoted above, and Ali Mubarak. They were assisted by a continuing translation of books from Europe on the same theme. Probably the most influential of these translations was by the editor of the Cairene journal al-Muqtataf , Ya`qub Sarruf. In 1880 when he was a teacher in Beirut, Sarruf translated into Arabic the famous book by Samuel Smiles, Self-Help, with Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverence .[41]

The theme of Self-Help coincided exactly with practices taking shape in Egypt. 'The worth and strength of a state', wrote Smiles, 'depend far less on the form of its institutions than on the character of its men. For the nation is only an aggregate of individual conditions, and civilisation is but a question of ... [their] personal improvement.'[42] The book was about 'character' (akhlaq in the Arabic translation), and about the 'moral discipline' (tarbiya ) by which those of an idle character are made 'industrious' (mujtahid ). The habit of industry (al-ijtihad ) is the moral quality upon which the state and its progress depend. 'National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy, and uprightness, as national decay is of individual idleness, selfishness, and vice.'[43]

The book made 'character' the object of its study in order to make three arguments, each of which was to contribute to its enormous usefulness in Egypt: (1) that the political task of those who govern is to mould individual habits and morals; (2) that government should not concern itself therefore with further legislation or greater rights, all of which lead to 'overgovernment' while failing to make the idle industrious; and (3) that to make the idle industrious requires the discipline and training of an education - the aim of which is not to supply knowledge as a 'marketable commodity' whose acquisition makes men 'better off, but to train those who must do society's daily work in the mentality of perseverence and industry.[44]

The translation was used as a reader at the Syrian Protestant College (later the American University) in Beirut, where Sarruf taught, and its vocabulary


and ideas influenced a generation of students there.[45] Several of these students, together with Sarruf, were driven out of Beirut in the 1880s by their American employers, for espousing the theories of Darwin. They moved to Egypt, to work and to write under the patronage of the British. No more devout believers in the ideas of self-help could have been found in this period than the British administrators in Egypt. The British considered their task to be to relieve Egypt of the evil of overgovernment, so that the productive capacity of the Egyptian peasant could be realised to the full.[46]

Several events indicate the impact of Smiles' book in Egypt. In 1886 a Self-Help Society was founded in Alexandria.[47] In 1898 Mustafa Kamil, the young leader of the nationalist opposition to the British occupation, founded a private school - an act which he declared to be his own practical application of the doctrine of self-help.[48] The phrase 'self-help' was inscribed on the wall of the school, together with several other mottoes from Smiles' book.[49] Mustafa Kamil's patron, the Khedive, is said to have gone even further and had the words of Samuel Smiles written up on the walls of his own palace.[50] Two years after founding his school as an act of self-help, Mustafa Kamil became the first person to call publicly for the founding of a university in Egypt, criticising as he did so the habit among Egyptians of relying upon the government rather than themselves in their affairs.[51] At the same time he established the newspaper al-Liwa ', which was to become the political mouthpiece of the National Party. Its early issues referred frequently to the subject of education, and argued that schools should be founded not primarily for the instruction of children, but for the forming of their character.[52] The newspaper saw its own role in the same way. It devoted an entire column every day to the 'character and habits' of Egyptians.

With the translation of works like Self-Help , then, the Egyptian character or mentality could be treated as a distinct and problematic object, the object upon which society and its strength were said to depend. The very occupation of the country by the British could be blamed upon defects in the Egyptian character, defects whose remedy was Egypt's political task.[53] Nationalist writers in the first years of the twentieth century frequently compared the colonial occupation of their country with the situation of Japan, as the Japanese defeated first the Chinese and then the Russians at war. The major difference accounting for the success of the Japanese in defeating the largest country in Asia and the largest country in Europe was the difference between the Japanese and Egyptian mentality. The Japanese, it was explained at length, had organised education and instruction, and concentrated on 'the formation of character'.[54] Egyptians were light-hearted, lazy, and fond of idling their time, while the Japanese were 'serious and industrious'.[55] Earlier, in 1881, the journal al-Muqtataf had compared the industry and seriousness of the Japanese with the light-heartedness of


Egyptians, mentioning among other things the industry of the Japanese in translating European books and giving a list of works they had translated, at the head of which was the book Character , by Samuel Smiles. A similar comparison between the mentality of the Japanese and the Egyptian was made in the journal in 1889 - by comparing the Japanese and the Egyptian exhibits seen in Paris that year at the world exhibition.[56]

After the translation into Arabic of Self-Help , perhaps the next work to have a similar impact in Egypt and the Arab world was a translation of the book by Edmond Demolins, A quoi tient la supériorité des Anglo-Saxons , a book which understood the political process again in terms of the problem of individual character.[57] The work attempted to explain how Britain had become the greatest and most successful colonial power, supplanting the French in North America, India, and Egypt, and dominating the rest of the world in commerce, industry, and politics.[58] It attributed the success of the Anglo-Saxon to his distinctive moral character, created and transmitted by the unique style of English education. France and other nations, in contrast, had failed to find a means of transmitting a modern character and way of life from one generation to the next, and the result one saw in these countries was a condition of 'universal social crisis'.[59]

As the means of forming a modern character and thereby producing order in a world where everything was 'in a state of disarray', the book was written to advocate not just English methods of schooling but the teaching of a new and particular kind of knowledge: social science. Demolins, who was editor in Paris of the journal La science sociale , described social science as 'at this moment, the single thing not scandalised by a similar disarray'. Social-scientific knowledge, he explained, was something correct and conclusive, and its very method of classification and comparison gave an order to the world. The particular form this order took was a division of the world into two. Social science, he continued, 'by all the things that it analyses, that it compares, that it classes, knows that at this moment the world is passing, necessarily - and for its own good - to a new condition, which is not transitory, which is durable, and which separates, as though into two, the time preceding and the time to come'.[60]

This division of the world 'as though into two', moreover, was a division not only between epochs, but between mentalities. As much as there was a difference between savage people and ourselves, Demolins wrote, a moral or mental gulf had opened between those whose minds were formed by the social sciences and the rest.[61] The resulting condition, he concluded at the end of the book, was 'a moral inferiority; of the Red-Skin in relation to the Oriental; of the Oriental in relation to the Westerner; and of the Latin and German peoples of the West, in relation to the Anglo-Saxons'.[62]

It was to these levels of mental inferiority that Ahmad Fathi Zaghlul, the


author of the Arabic translation, drew attention in the introduction he wrote to the Arabic edition. His aim in translating the book, he said, was to make people consider the causes of this inferiority, by comparing the Egyptian 'character' to the character of the English who had occupied their country.[63] He enumerated what he considered the areas of weakness in the Egyptian character. They included weakness in affection and friendship, in determination, in dignity, and in the willingness to do charitable works. Above all there was the habit of relying for everything upon the government, whose real function was only to provide order and security, and to carry out justice. Weakness had been added to weakness he said, and the country's wealth and affairs were now in the hands of foreigners. The foreigners could not be blamed for this, because they had benefitted by their own efforts, and by their social-scientific knowledge.[64]

The translation of Demolins' work had a wide impact in Egypt, among a certain social class. It aroused immediately a great deal of discussion in the press.[65] Several years later it was recalled by a leading Egyptian intellectual as one of the few works that 'spread among the masses a scientific basis for development, so that people could apply its principles to their situation'.[66] The book became widely known among educated men, even in provincial Egypt. The governor of a province of upper Egypt told a French traveller that he had read Demolins' book, soon after it had been published. He had decided to send his son, who was a student at the government preparatory school in Cairo to complete his studies at the new school established by Demolins near Paris.[67] The famous Ecole des Roches was set up by Demolins following the success of his book on Anglo-Saxon superiority. He described the principles of its organisation in another work, L'Education nouvelle (1898) - which Hasan Tawfiq al-Dijwi, a lawyer employed under Fathi Zaghlul as a clerk to the native courts, translated almost immediately into Arabic.[68]

A Generation of Mothers

A particular theme that could be drawn from these political discussions of the Egyptian mentality was a link between the country's 'moral inferiority' and the status of its women. The retarded development of the nation corresponded, it could now be argued, to the retarded development of the Egyptian woman. This was a favourite theme of the British colonial administrators. 'The position of women in Egypt', wrote Lord Cromer, is 'a fatal obstacle to the attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of European civilisation.' This civilisation would not succeed, he argued, if 'the position which women occupy in Europe is abstracted from the general plan'.[69] The 'position' the British had


in mind was that of modern motherhood; for the political and economic transformation of Egypt required a transformation of the household.[70] If modern political authority was to work through the forming and disciplining of 'character', the individual household, it followed, had to be transformed into a site of this discipline. To this end it was necessary to break down existing patterns of association and segregation, mystified and romanticised under such labels as 'the harem'. 'The unwholesome - and frequently degrading - associations of the old harem life', wrote Cromer's Oriental Secretary Harry Boyle, should 'give place to the healthy and elevating influence of a generation of mothers, keenly alive to their responsibilities as regards the moral training and welfare of their children.'[71] In such ways political power would hope to penetrate that 'inaccessible' space invisible to 'the observation of the police' and thus commence, recalling a phrase from a previous chapter, to 'work from the inside out'.

The need to open up the inaccessible world of women and thereby produce 'a generation of mothers' was a theme taken up among Egyptian writers, in particular by Qasim Amin, a member of a large landowning family and one of the young government prosecutors employed, like Zaghlul, in the new, Europeanised legal system. If men were to study the situation of women in Egypt, he wrote, as men had already done in Europe, they would find that women are 'the source of their decline and the cause of their ruin'.[72] Around the turn of the century he published three widely discussed books on this general theme. The first of them, Les égyptiens , published while he was still in his twenties, was written in French as a response to a work by the Duc d'Harcourt that had attacked Britain's claim to be civilising the Egyptians.[73] The backwardness of the Egyptians, Harcourt had said, was due to certain mental traits that no administrative reforms by the British could ever noticeably alter. These included a submissive character, an insensibility to pain, a habit of dishonesty, and above all an intellectual lethargy that had rendered all Oriental societies immobile, unable to undergo any real historical or political transformation. The ideas, customs, and laws of the Arabs today were just as they had been one thousand years before. This sterility, said Harcourt, was due partly to the stifling effects of climate, but more to the element most uniform throughout the region, Islam. Islamic teachings created a profoundly altered moral sense, which destroyed all intellectual curiosity. So deep and longstanding were these traits that the people with whom one rubbed shoulders in the streets of Cairo differed from the people of France, Harcourt concluded, not only in the dazzling colour of their flowing robes, but in the very nature of the men.[74]

It was not unusual that an Egyptian writer should reply to these views. What is interesting is the form of the response. Qasim Amin did not question Harcourt's essential distinction between vitality as the characteristic of the


West and the thousand-year immobility of his own country, or the ascription of its causes to certain mental traits. In fact he went further and said that their consequence in present-day Egypt was a condition not just of relative decline, but of 'désorganisation absolue'. He differed with Harcourt by attributing this disorder, as he saw it, and the mental traits that caused it, not to Islam but to the abandoning of Islam. Religion had provided the principles of an order that was now lost. Egypt as a result faced a choice, between attempting to reestablish order by a return to the principles of Islam, and seeking a new basis altogether for social organisation - in the laws and principles of social science. In fact by starting to adopt over the last few decades ideas from contemporary Europe, Egypt seemed already to have chosen the second course. Whatever its merits, the choice had been something inevitable and impossible to resist, he felt, for the movement of European civilisation 'prend partout un caractère envahissant'. Europe's civilisation, he said, was 'la dernière dans l'ordre des civilisations' and possessed 'un caractère de longevité, j'allais dire d'irrévocabilité'.[75]

The end was to overcome the state of 'absolute disorganisation', which was to be done by making social science the new organising principle of society. This gave a new extent to the country's need for scientific knowledge. How in practice could this political need be met? The old method, sending a cadre of students to Europe to acquire and bring back science, would not be sufficient. One solution was to be the building in Egypt of a national university to produce an educated elite at home. But Qasim Amin began by proposing the formation of something far larger than an intelligentsia: an educated Egyptian motherhood. 'Je suis partisan absolue', he announced in Les égyptiens , 'd'une instruction relative pour les femmes.' Dismissing Harcourt's fanciful accounts of harems and eunuchs, Qasim Amin explained that within the Egyptian home it was women and not men who held power. It was this power that was to be engaged, in order to establish science as society's principle of order. Education must be given to girls, he said, to enable them as mothers to offer scientific answers to the eternal questioning of their children.[76] As he argued repeatedly in his subsequent writings, the process of creating a modern political order was to begin on the mother's knee.

Writings of this kind sought to isolate women as the locus of the country's backwardness. They were the holders of a power that was to be broken up by the new policies of the state, transformed into a means of social and political discipline. The family was to be organised as this house of discipline, which would then be able to produce, alongside the schools, the military and the other practices I have mentioned, the proper 'mentality' of the Egyptian - upon which the very possibility of a social order was understood to depend.


I now want to return to this question of the social order. Like the notion of mind or mentality, the social order was an abstraction. Like the mind, it indicated a mental or conceptual realm existing apart from the visible world of 'mere things' - the realm of order or structure. Discussing the army, model housing and the school in chapters 2 and 3, I suggested that the new methods of discipline and distribution in each case produced this sort of effect of a non-physical structure existing apart from things in themselves. Thus in the military, for instance, the coordination and control of men made an army seem like a machine, something more than the sum of its parts. The appearance of the military as a machine made the absence of such a structure in old armies suddenly visible; old armies now seemed like 'a crowd in a place of diversion'. Similarly, as we saw, the methods of discipline in the modern school made it suddenly possible to talk of the 'chaos' and the 'brouhaha' of the teaching mosque. Once the same methods of coordination and control were envisaged for the civilian and the city, existing cities in the same way suddenly appeared filled with the crowd. In terms of the new perception of the crowd one encounters the same sudden discovery of the problem of a social order.

The Problem of Society

The question of the crowd has already been mentioned in Egyptian accounts of journeys to Europe. What was remarkable about Paris or Marseilles was not only the layout of the buildings and the shops but the disciplined, industrious manner of the individual in the busy streets. 'Each person was occupied with his own business, proceeding on his way, taking care not to harm or interfere with anyone else.' Such descriptions are reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's 'Man in the crowd', who observed from his café window how 'by far the greater number of those who went by had a satisfied, businesslike demeanour, and seemed to be thinking only of making their way through the press. Their brows were knit and their eyes rolled quickly; when pushed against by fellow-wayfarers they evinced no symptom of impatience, but adjusted their clothes and hurried on.'[77] The crowd in the street, in fact, became a common topos in both Western and Egyptian writing. 'No subject', observed Benjamin, 'was more entitled to the attentions of nineteenth-century writers.'[78]

The crowd in the city's streets was the theme in a work of fiction that appeared in Egypt at the end of the nineteenth century. Like the works I examined in earlier chapters, the story was written in the form of a journey. But although its protagonists eventually find themselves in Paris (travelling there, I should add, to see the Exposition Universelle of 1900), for the first time in a work of modern Egyptian fiction the major events are set not in


Europe but in Cairo. The two protagonists, a young writer named Isa ibn Hisham and his elderly and respectable companion, the Pasha, are jostled by crowds from the very start of their journey. They meet in one of the cemeteries outside Cairo, where the Pasha, who lived in Cairo fifty years before, has returned from the dead to discover with shock and confusion what has happened to the city since. As they set off into the city, a donkey driver tries to cheat the Pasha over the payment of a fare and an argument breaks out. The Pasha calls the donkey driver an 'insolent peasant'. He in turn warns the Pasha 'we are in an age of liberty, and there is no distinction between the donkey driver and the prince'. Around them, we are told, a crowd has already formed. A policeman arrives, more interested in a bribe than in 'preserving order,' and marches the Pasha off to the police station. They are accompanied, the author adds, by the enormous crowd.[79]

In subsequent chapters the two characters journey through the modern streets of Cairo and the new spaces of its public life. They find themselves in the court house and the gaol, the hotel and the restaurant, theatres and dance halls, bars, cafés and brothels, accompanied throughout by the restless, noisy crowd. 'What is this enormous commotion?' asks the Pasha on one occasion, as they walk during the evening in the centre of the city, ' ... this cleaving multitude, this crowd?' He supposes there must be some fantastic feast or funeral. 'No,' answers Isa ibn Hisham, 'just people congregating in public - companions spending an evening together and drinkers getting drunk.'[80]

This combination of the unruly commotion of life and the absence of all moral and political discipline repeats itself in almost every episode of the novel. The crowd is encountered not only in the brothel and the café but even at the final place they visit on their journey, the theatre. The theatre in Europe (a companion explains to the Pasha) is a place where people's morals are refined, by the portrayal of their history and other themes in dramatic form. Here it was very different. The actors danced, shouted, and caroused on stage, and the audience, composed of people from every class, did not sit silently like Europeans, as spectators, but joined in, laughing and applauding as a raucous crowd.[81]

The Tale of Isa ibn Hisham , as the book was called, was described by later writers as the most important work of imaginative literature of its generation.[82] It was very widely read. An expurgated version was later used by the Ministry of Education, as a text in all government secondary schools.[83] It has been interpreted as a work of social criticism that expresses the liberalism which emerged in the political thought of the period. The term liberalism tends to be misleading. The donkey driver's statement about an age of liberty has been cited to illustrate a major theme of the book, that Egyptians must be taught the principle of equality before the law.[84] But these words


come from the mouth of an insolent peasant. The concern of the book is not with equality of rights but with social chaos, a chaos suddenly visible in the indiscipline of the city's streets where the peasant behaves as an equal of the Pasha. Indiscipline is not usually considered a central concern of liberal thought, but rather than abandoning the label of liberalism I would prefer to use these writings from Egypt to understand liberalism in its colonial context. Egyptian liberalism spoke about justice and legal rights; but these concerns were contained within a wider problematic. Rights could only be enjoyed within a society of obedient and industrious individuals, and it was these characteristics, as we have seen, that Egyptians now suddenly seemed to lack. Liberalism was the language of a new social class, threatened by the absence of the mental habits of industry and obedience which would make possible a social order. The Tale of Isa ibn Hisham articulated the political fears of this class.

The novel was written by the thirty-year-old Muhammad al-Muwailihi and published between 1898 and 1902 in Misbah al-Sharq , a paper founded and edited by his father. The father was a member of a leading merchant household of Cairo, the Egyptian branch of a wealthy textile-trading family from the Hejaz (the Red Sea coast of Arabia). The history of the family is worth mentioning, for it illustrates the fortunes of this mercantile class. The Muwailihi's had grown prosperous in the eighteenth century with the prosperity of Egypt's Red Sea trade, and in the nineteenth century had become close political allies of the Egyptian ruling family. Such alliances, however, were unable to secure the country's large merchant families against the expansion of European commerce. In the 1870s, after being rescued from commercial ruin by the Khedive, the Muwailihi's were among those who led the nationalist opposition to Egypt's commercial and financial control by the European powers.[85] By the 1890s the son was employed as a government official under the British, who had responded to the nationalist uprising in 1882 by placing the country under military occupation.

Muhammad al-Muwailihi wrote Isa ibn Hisham at the same time as two influential friends of his own age, Qasim Amin and Ahmad Fathi Zaghlul, were writing the similar works of social criticism I have already mentioned, one describing the country's condition as a state of absolute disorganisation, the other as part of a universal social crisis.[86] The three men were all members of the same social and literary salon, where they mixed with fellow government servants, magistrates, and prosecuters, with members of some of the country's important Turkish families, with British officials, and with visiting Orientalist scholars.[87] The concern among those who gathered in such salons towards the end of the nineteenth century was not so much the colonial occupation, from which as landowners, merchants and government officials their families were beginning to benefit even as they resented the


fact of European control, but the crowd that threatened in the streets and cafés outside.

Noise and Confusion

The number of cafés, bars, and gaming rooms in Cairo increased more than threefold, from 2,316 to 7,475, in the last decade of the nineteenth century.[88] Descriptions of café life are found frequently in the literature of the period, particularly that concerned with describing the country's state of disorder. They enabled the writer to follow the existence of the crowd into confined, interior spaces.

The café in Cairo is a place where the rabble gathers ... in a space so confined that its occupants are almost overcome by the fumes that rise from the stoves and the smoke of the pipes and nargilehs; so that a person who walks in feels he has entered a burning fire, or the cramped confines of a prison. It is the source of numerous infections and diseases, and a refuge for the unemployed and the indolent, particularly in those places known for the consumption of hashish. The only thing one hears once inside are words repugnant to the ear and offensive to one's nature. The place is a scene of continual arguments and fights.[89]

In the café, as in the bar and the brothel, the particular 'disorders' of the crowd could be diagnosed - the first and most prevalent of which was always indolence and unemployment. In 1902 the work in Arabic on The Present State of the Egyptians, or, The Causes of Their Retrogression by Muhammad Umar discussed at length some of the further consequences of this indolence and these new forms of social life, including alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity, disease and insanity.[90] All of these were spreading alarmingly, the book said, especially among the poor.

Schooling among the poor was still insufficient, and if anyone should learn to read, the books available to them contained more illustrations than text, full of unwholesome stories such as 'The Fellah and the Three Women'. One such book had recently gone through six reprints in less than a month.[91] Family life was neglected. Men had taken to spending their days or their entire evenings in the more disreputable cafés, where women entertained and men told the stories of Don Juan.

Lunacy was another symptom that could now be diagnosed. Umar's book warned that the hospital for the insane in Abbasiyya, a new institution only recently set up by the British, was already so overcrowded with members of the lower classes that it was discharging into the streets hundreds who were still diseased, to make room for others even worse afflicted. A list of known causes of insanity for those admitted in 1899 was quoted, from the annual report of Mr Warnock, Director in Lunacy for the Egyptian government.


The careful classification of causes offered at least some sense of order:




Loss of blood


Sexual incontinence




Typhoid fever


Food deficiency






Idiocy and imbecility






Grief, poverty and distress







Addiction to alcohol and drugs, the author summarised, was part of a general weakness of will, which was causing more damage to social life among the poor than poverty itself.[92]

The author's own class - those who worked for the prosperity of the community in commerce, agriculture, and manufacturing (to be distinguished from the old aristocracy, he explained, who lived off income from property, emoluments, or inheritance), together with those who worked as scholars and writers - were set apart from all this by their sense of 'order'. They were not afflicted with the indolence found among the poor and even the very rich. This, the book emphasised, was thanks to the order introduced by the British, which had given them self-confidence and initiative in their affairs. The order stood in contrast to the chaos caused by the Urabi revolution that had preceded the British occupation of the country.[93]

'Noise and confusion' were the sort of terms in which men of this class described the situation around them. These were the words used by the writer Abd al-Hamid al-Zahrawi to describe the country's general condition. Zahrawi, a Syrian who lived in Egypt in this period, was later to serve in Paris as President of the First Arab Congress and was one of several dozen prominent Arab nationalists hanged for 'treason' by the Turkish government during the First World War. The noise and confusion was a social disease, he wrote, that had broken out over the community. The intelligent men one found among the scholarly community and those trained in modern science, among the old respectable families, and among those involved in large-scale agriculture and commerce, were in danger of being silenced and destroyed by this disorder, he wrote, this noise and confusion.[94]

Another threat to 'order' singled out in the writings of this class was Cairo's youth. They were under-educated, under-employed, and under-amused, and formed a distinct and potentially disruptive social problem. They lacked the discipline of an education, it was said, for schooling had done nothing to keep pace with the increase in population, and except among the country's Christian population had actually declined.[95] The youths took to the streets of the city every evening and roamed about in groups. Their latest fad (bid`a ), we are told, was practical joking. The author of The Present State of the Egyptians mentioned that he himself had been a victim, accosted at his club by three strangers two of whom were dressed as


women. They turned out to be young men from the government office where he worked, the sons of well-to-do families and probably drunk at the time.[96] During the daytime, instead of being occupied with school or work, young men idled their time, like the poor, in cafés, particularly in the late afternoon when the daily newspapers appeared, and argued without point or end over the latest Reuters reports. They should be made to understand, wrote Umar, that in civilised countries politics was a science, just like the other social sciences, and not a subject of idle debate in cafés.[97]

The Social Order

The nationalism that emerged during the later nineteenth century in Cairo, in its cafés and in the newspapers young men read there, in the salons of the new landowning families and government officials, in officers' quarters and in the open street, has often been understood as an 'awakening'. The image depicts a community that suddenly became self-aware, usually because prompted by Europeans. This awareness, it is said, was then gradually articulated, until it grew by the end of the First World War into anti-colonial revolt. The image of national awakening is problematic - not only because it has always implied that people were previously unawake and unaware (yet Cairo never lacked an active and resistant political life), but because there seems to follow from this the implication that nationalism always exists, as a singular truth about 'the nation' waiting to be realised. It is something discovered, not invented.[98]

Nationalism was not a singular truth, but a different thing among these different social groups. My concern here is with those who secured new wealth and political power under the British, and maintained it as the British withdrew. Their political writings were concerned with the threatening presence of the mass of working and unemployed Egyptians. This threatening presence took most often the form of the crowd. Somehow this crowd was to be ordered and made obedient and industrious. Its individuals were to be formed into an organised and disciplined whole. It was this obedient and regulated whole that was to be imagined under the name of the 'nation', that was to be constructed as Egyptian 'society'. And the word for this political process of discipline and formation was education.[99]

It was in terms of education that the notion of 'society' or 'social form' had first been introduced in the writings of the 1870s. 'The proper state of the education of individuals (both male and female), and its spread among them, Tahtawi had written, 'organises the proper state of the education of the collective form, that is, the community in its entirety.'[100] The formation of individuals was to be the means to the formation of a 'collective form'. Several such attempts were made to find a particular phrase or word for this collectivity that was to be organised by the discipline and instruction of indi-


viduals. Phrases such as al-intizam al-umrani (social organisation)[101] and al-jam`iyya al-muntazima (organised association)[102] were used, but the sort of phrase that became common was al-hay'a al-mujtama`iyya - hay'a , meaning 'form' itself, in the sense of visible shape or condition, qualified with the adjective from the word mujtama` , collective. Tahtawi in this case glossed the unusual and awkward expression al-hay'a al-mujtama`iyya (the collective form, society) by explaining that it stands for 'the community in its entirety'.

The Pasha in The Tale of Isa ibn Hisham had encountered this new expression in the midst of his encounter with the crowd. After his argument with the donkey driver and his night in gaol, he had found himself before the state prosecutor, amid 'a crowd of litigants'. 'Who is this servant-boy', he asked, 'and what is this crowd?' His companion explained that the young man, from a peasant family, was the prosecutor. According to the new order he was responsible for prosecuting criminals, 'on behalf of society (al-hay'a al-ijtima`iyya )'. What, asked the Pasha, is 'society'? It is the whole community (majmu`at al-umma ), he was told.[103]

The neologism was explained but the Pasha's confusion concerning the new order remained - 'that people should be ruled over by a peasant, the community represented by a ploughboy!'[104] His confusion reflects the difficulty of imagining this new object called society. It was new in several respects. Its order was not a hierarchy of personal status, for peasants now appeared as equal members with gentlemen. Its membership was not a pattern of kinship extending outward, however distantly, from one's own connections. 'Society' was something encountered above all in the form of crowds. Somehow the strangers crowded together in the courtroom were to be conceived as parts of a social whole to which one belonged, even though nothing seemed to connect the Pasha to the crowd except their occupying the same space at the same moment. To conceive of these connections, and to construct them into a social whole was not necessarily a matter of extending one's horizons or enlarging one's imagination. It was more a matter of adopting new political and social practices, which brought a new set of assumptions. Certain practices involving self and space, order and time, body and mentality were to be adopted, of the kind I have been describing in this book, so that the dimensions of space and time and mentality appeared to stand apart as a conceptual structure, a whole; and it was to be forgotten that they were mere appearances.

In Europe in this period one finds the same attempt underway to envision 'society' as both a political and conceptual structure existing apart from people themselves, the same connection with the process of schooling and the same fears of the crowd. In order to bring out the peculiar nature of the connections between the crowd, the school and the conception of an object called society, it may help to recall the writings of a major European social


theorist from this period. The work of Emile Durkheim, who trained as a school teacher in Paris in the 1880s and later lectured there on education and social theory, laid the base on which was built much of the twentieth century's scientific study of this new object, society. Durkheim's importance to social science was that he established society as something with an 'objective' existence, as a mental order independent of the individual mentality, and showed how this imaginary object might be studied.

Durkheim demonstrated that the social realm had an existence independent of particular individual minds by referring, in the first place, to the behaviour of the individual who joins a crowd. 'The great movements of enthusiasm, indignation, and pity in a crowd do not originate in any one of the particular individual consciousnesses', he wrote in The Rules of Sociological Method , published in 1895. 'They come to each one of us from without and can carry us away in spite of ourselves ... Thus, a group of individuals, most of whom are perfectly inoffensive, may, when gathered in a crowd, be drawn into acts of atrocity.'[105] The tone of this passage already indicates what was to be politically at stake in establishing the object of social science. The problem of the potentially unbounded violence of the crowd is associated with an unbounded individual nature. Modern liberalism's originary fear of what any one of us might do 'in spite of ourselves' is a fear at the heart of liberal social science.[106] From the fear of the unbounded and undisciplined subject arises the need to know and to strengthen the objective existence of society.

The counterpart to the objective nature of society, in Durkheim's work as in all liberal social theory, was the necessity and the universal nature of education. Education, Durkheim wrote, is 'the means by which society perpetually recreates the conditions of its very existence'.[107] If society was an object existing apart from the individual, as a conscience collective , it required a mechanism for recreating its collective morality in the individual. This morality was a system of discipline, based on 'regularity and authority', and it was such discipline that schooling in the modern state was to inculcate. 'The child must learn to coordinate his acts and regulate them ... He must acquire self-mastery, self-restraint, self-domination, self-determination, the taste for discipline and order in behaviour.' The coordination of individuals to form a nation-state depended upon this common discipline. In his lecture courses on 'The teaching of morality in the primary school', Durkheim explained that the purpose of universal secular state education was to make the child 'understand his country and times, to make him aware of its needs, to initiate him into its life, and in this way to prepare him for the collective tasks which await him'.[108]

A number of Egyptians attended Durkheim's lectures on education and social theory at the Sorbonne, including the writer and future education


minister Taha Husayn. But the works on education and social theory that Taha Husayn and others chose to translate into Arabic were not those of Durkheim. They chose instead the writings of a better known contemporary, who in 1895, the same year as The Rules of Sociological Method appeared, published a famous work on The Crowd .

An Elite of Superior Men

'I used to feel a resentment towards Egypt that I felt towards no other human society', wrote a columnist in the Egyptian paper al-Mu'ayyad in 1910. 'I would almost believe that its character and condition made it a strange exception - until I read this book.' The book was Ruh al-ijtima` , a translation of Gustave Le Bon's scientific study of the crowd, Psychologie des foules , and had been published in Cairo the previous year. 'It explains the nature of societies in general, eastern and western,' continued the columnist, 'and determines a single law that applies to all of them, without variants or exceptions. I have learnt that there is no difference between Egypt's people and the people of other countries.'[109] The book establishing this law was translated into Arabic by Ahmad Fathi Zaghlul, the translator of Demolins - and the estranged brother of the future nationalist leader Sa`d Zaghlul. Fathi Zaghlul was known among ordinary Egyptians as one of the members of the government tribunal set up in the Delta village of Dinshawai, following a fight there in which a British officer of the army of occupation had been killed. The tribunal had responded to this threat of popular violence against the colonial regime by ordering six of the villagers to be hanged. Zaghlul was now Under-Secretary in the Egyptian Ministry of Justice.[110] The book he translated seems to have been widely read, at least among those with similar fears concerning the threat of popular disorder. Scarcely two years later the future rector of the Egyptian University was writing that its ideas 'have been completely assimilated by Egyptian minds, as shown in the very vocabulary used by writers in the press'. The assimilation of the results of research by such social scientists (ulama' al-ijtima` ) was helping to rectify Egyptian ideas about society. The laws it revealed, he said, were to be applied to guide the country forward.[111]

As part of this effort, several other works by Gustave Le Bon were translated into Arabic. Ahmad Fathi Zaghlul produced an Arabic version of Les lois psychologiques de l'évolution des peuples , while a translation of Le Bon's scientific study of schooling, Psychologie de l'éducation , was produced by the future rector's protégé Taha Husayn - the writer who was to become a dean of the University and later Minister of Education and Culture.[112] Le Bon's work as an Orientalist was equally important, as we will see, and two of his books were translated into Arabic: La civilisation des Arabes , and the third


part of Les premières civilisations .[113] These works profoundly influenced the new nationalist historiography that writers of this class were starting to produce. Le Bon, in sum, was probably the strongest individual European influence in turn-of-the-century Cairo on the political thought of Egypt's emergent bourgeoisie.

There was nothing unusual about the influence of Le Bon's social theories. His book on the crowd has been described as 'possibly the most influential book ever written in social psychology'.[114] His work also influenced political leaders, including Mussolini (who is said to have frequently consulted the work on the crowd) and Theodore Roosevelt. When the former American president visited Cairo in 1910 and announced controversially in an address at the new National University that Egyptians were not sufficiently evolved to deserve self-government, he was carrying with him, along with the Bible, a copy of Le Bon's book on the psychological laws of the evolution of peoples.[115]

Le Bon's work as a popular social scientist and Orientalist addressed two major issues: how to account for the difference between advanced and backward societies, and how to account for the difference within a society between the mass of its people and the elite. He had contributed in his early work to the new literature on intelligence, as the variable most closely correlated to the level of advancement of a race. Intelligence was measured by the volume and diameter of the skull, which were shown to increase as the brain itself evolved in size and complexity. (These findings of Le Bon were used by Durkheim, in his early work on The Division of Labour in Society .)[116] Le Bon claimed to be the inventor of the pocket cephalometer, a caliper device with which a traveller could record the size of a people's heads, and thereby calibrate the degree of their advancement.[117] By this criterion, the black, yellow, and Caucasian races were clearly distinguishable as three separate stages on the ladder of evolution.

Anatomical variables were unsuccessful, however, in explaining one major difference in cultural and political development, namely the gap between the two branches of the Caucasian race, the Europeans of the north and the Semites of the Middle East. Le Bon rejected language or institutions as an alternative variable, and in writing about the Arabs introduced instead the idea of a people's psyche or soul, the collective mind of the group or race. Every nation had a 'mental constitution' - no doubt corresponding to anatomical variables in the brain, but variables which science was not yet precise enough to detect - that was composed of its sentiments, ideas, and beliefs, and was created by a process of slow, hereditary accumulation.[118] It was this idea of a collective mind or mental constitution that Durkheim, originally influenced by Le Bon, developed into the modern concept of society.[119]


The national mind was 'the synthesis of a people's entire past', Le Bon explained, and took many generations to evolve. It followed from this that Europe would be unable to introduce modern civilisation, as was being frequently proposed, to other parts of the world simply by education. 'A negro or a Japanese may easily take a university degree or become a lawyer', wrote Le Bon in one of his works translated into Arabic. 'The sort of varnish he thus acquires is however quite superficial, and has no influence on his mental constitution.' Europe would have to alter not just the level of intelligence of a nation it hoped to modernise, as was then commonly thought, but its psyche. 'To enable it to bequeath its civilisation to another people, it would be necessary that it should be able to bequeath its soul.'[120]

Le Bon also made the point that the ideas and culture of a nation were developed not among the mass of a nation but largely among its elite. Between the masses in a country such as Egypt therefore, and those in parts of Europe, the difference in the level of development might not be very great. 'What most differentiates Europeans from Orientals is that only the former possess an élite of superior men', he explained. This small phalanx of eminent men found among a highly civilised people 'constitutes the true incarnation of the forces of a race. To it is due the progress realised in the sciences, the arts, in industry, in a word in all the branches of civilisation.' As so much of the ethnographic writing of this period was demonstrating, individuals in less civilised communities displayed a great degree of equality among themselves. From this there followed an important conclusion, which helps explain the popularity of Le Bon among writers of a certain class in Egypt. Modern progress must be understood as a movement towards increasing inequality.[121]

Progress involved the steady growth of an elite and its achievement of civilisation by long hereditary accumulation. Yet this accumulation, warned Le Bon, although inherited in the very cells of the brain, could be quickly and easily lost. These cells were subject to physiological laws just like those of any other organ, and when no longer employed to fulfil its function the brain atrophied very quickly. Those qualities of character accumulated over centuries by an avanced people, namely 'courage, initiative, energy, the spirit of enterprise', could very quickly disappear.[122]

The Collective Mind

Le Bon developed these ideas in his work on the history of Arab civilisation, which was translated into Arabic in Beirut and widely read in Egypt among the country's political elite.[123] (Among those who admired the book was Muhammad Abduh, the Egyptian scholar and educationalist whose re-interpretation of Islamic history and doctrine was to have a wide influ-


ence. Abduh's view of a reformed Islam, as a system of social discipline and instruction with which an intellectual and political elite would organise the country's 'political education' and thus assure its stability and its evolution, was indebted to his reading of Le Bon and other French social scientists; and indeed when he visited France he paid a call on Le Bon.)[124] In Les lois psycho-logiques de l'évolution des peuples , the second of Le Bon's works translated into Arabic by Fathi Zaghlul, the same theories were presented more comprehensively. The progress of a nation was conditional upon the growth in power of its elite.

In the work on the crowd which he wrote soon afterwards, the same principles were applied to a problem found not between societies but within them. How was it, Le Bon asked, that when individuals joined a social group they seemed to undergo a mental change, to lose something of their intelligence and moral restraint? To this pressing political question he introduced a novel answer. The group was an organism whose individual cells merged to form a living body, Le Bon wrote, a 'provisional being' that possessed an unconscious collective mind. In this merger individual psychological differences - the source as he had shown of all excellence - were lost, leaving only what was common, the residue of psychological or racial unconscious. Crowds therefore were like less intelligent beings, like children or lunatics or women, said Le Bon, evoking as metaphors the fears of his generation and class.[125] They were impulsive, irritable, alternately generous and cruel, credulous, respectful of force, and wishing always to be dominated and ruled. They were like not only lunatics, children, or women, but also that other less intelligent form, the backward nation or race. This comparison with more primitive states was presented not just as a metaphor but as a factual description of the psychological change that took place when the individual joined the crowd. 'By the mere fact that he joins an organised group,'Le Bon explained in the phrase that for Freud expressed his major contribution, 'a man descends several rungs on the ladder of civilisation.'[126] The difference between the individual and the crowd was identical to that between the advanced nation and the backward. The two inferior social conditions represented the same retarding in the state of psychological evolution caused by the absence of the individual excellence of the elite.

The fear of the crowd, then, was linked to the problematic need to create society, which required on the one hand the formation of an elite, and on the other - as Le Bon himself explained in his other writings - the disciplinary system of modern schooling. Le Bon's ideas were to fall out of fashion, largely because of the weakness of their biological foundation. Durkheim's efforts to address the same issues have lasted much better. A major reason for this is that Durkheim explained the existence of the social order in terms of what I would call the representational nature of social phenomena. His


social theory, therefore, coincided with the more and more 'exhibitional' nature of the modern state. To conclude this chapter, I want to point out the role of representation in Durkheim's theory of society.

The behaviour of the crowd, Durkheim explained, was an indication that society was a thing; something with an 'objective' existence. The object consisted of shared ideas or beliefs. In phenomena such as the crowd, he wrote, these collective beliefs 'acquire a body, a tangible form'; their acquisition of a bodily form demonstrated that shared beliefs 'constitute a reality in their own right'. The independent reality or objectness of the social, in other words, was a reality constituted by the ability of this ideal object always to present itself in a non-ideal, material body. Another example of such embodiment was the representation of shared ideas in statistics: 'currents of opinion', Durkheim wrote, ' ... are, in fact, represented with considerable exactness' in such figures, whose average provides a material representation of 'a certain state of the group mind'. Besides this example, what gave an objective character to any aspect of the shared social order - legal, moral or cognitive - was its embodiment in a material representation. The entire social realm was known to exist only through representations: 'Law is embodied in codes; the currents of daily life are recorded in statistical figures and historical monuments; fashions are preserved in costumes; and taste in works of art. By their very nature', Durkheim concluded, social facts ' ... tend toward an independent existence.'[127] The reality or objectivity of the social resided in its representational nature.

Society, thus, was a thing - that is, something that occurs representationally. To the extent that what we call 'material' objects were arranged to represent a non-material realm of ideas - whether in the modern machinery of fashion and the accompanying consumer industry, in works of art arranged in exhibitions (and in the objects displayed in museums, no doubt, and in zoos), in the organisation of historical monuments and the rest of the modern tourist industry, in the codification of law and the general codification of behaviour, or in compilations of statistics and the whole machinery of social science - they indicate or exhibit the existence of a shared conceptual order. In the world-as-exhibition, as I suggested in chapter 1, these processes of representation were taken to be the process of order itself. In the modern state, they were the method by which the apparent existence of a conceptual realm, the separate realm of meaning or order, was to be achieved.

Colonising Egypt, in the broad sense of the penetration of a new principle of order and technique of power, was never merely a question of introducing a new physical discipline or a new material order. In the first place, disciplinary powers were themselves to work by constructing their object as something twofold. They were to operate in terms of a distinction between


the physical body that could be counted, policed, supervised and made industrious, and an inner mental space within which the corresponding habits of obedience and industry were to be instilled. But more importantly, this new divided personhood - whose novelty I will be returning to in chapter 6 - was to correspond to a divided world. The world was something to be constructed and ordered according to an equivalent distinction between physical 'things' and their non-material structure. Politically, the most important such structure was to be 'society' itself, a social order now conceived in absolute distinction to the mere individuals and practices composing it.

In the colonial age, as Durkheim's writings indicate, this effect of an abstract social realm is more and more to be built into things. The monuments, buildings, commodities, fashions and experiences of the world-as-exhibition are all to be understood as mechanisms presenting themselves as mere 'things', always thereby claiming to re-present a further realm - the realm of meaning, which is to become synonymous with the social. Such a machinery of the social order and of truth is to become the political principle inhabiting not only colonial urban architecture, methods of instruction, or commercial practice. In the colonisation of Egypt it can be found transforming even the most local mechanisms of meaning, the very process of writing.


previous chapter
Chapter 4 After We Have Captured Their Bodies
next chapter